29 April 1916

Events of 29 April as recounted in a letter to his family written on May 18, 1916

“We are at sea, somewhere off Aden, I suppose, so before it gets too late I am going to tell you something of what I saw in Mesopotamia …

“I only stayed three days in Basra, as the G.O.C. and all his staff were up at the front. The people at the base gave me some biscuits, ten loaves, ten tins of jam, ten tins of beef, and put me on board a little paddle steamer that had been a ferry on the Irrawaddy …

“At the front I found Headquarters living in a steamer with good awnings and a saloon! I stayed with them for about three weeks, while Kut fell … Colonel Beach, one of the Mesopotamian Staff, Aubrey Herbert (who was with us in Cairo) and myself were sent up to see the Turkish Commander in Chief, and arrange the release, if possible, of Townshend’s wounded. From our front trenches we waved a white flag vigorously: then we scrambled out, and walked about half-way across the 500 yards of deep meadow-grass between our lines and the Turkish trenches. Turkish officers came out to meet us, and we explained what we wanted. They were tired of shooting, so kept us sitting there with our flag as a temporary truce, while they told Halil Pasha we were coming – and eventually in the early afternoon we were taken blind-folded through their lines and about ten miles Westward till within four miles of Kut to his Headquarters … He spoke French to us, and was very polite, but of course the cards were all in his hands, and we could not get much out of him. However he let about 1,000 wounded go without any condition but the release of as many Turks – which was all we could hope for.

“We spent the night in his camp, and they gave us a most excellent dinner in Turkish style – which was a novelty to Colonel Beach, but pleased Aubrey and myself. Next morning we looked at Kut in the distance, and then came back blindfolded as before … After that there was nothing for us to do, so the Headquarters ship turned round, and came down again to Basra. We got there about the 8th and I spent four or five days settling up things and then came away.”

T. E. Lawrence to his family (The Home Letters of T. E. Lawrence and His Brothers, edited by M. R. Lawrence, published by Blackwell, 1954).

After withstanding nearly five months under siege at Kut, on the River Tigris in Mesopotamia, General Charles Townshend surrendered to the Turkish commander Khalil Pasha on April 29, 1916.

Lawrence, with Aubrey Herbert and Colonel Beach, offered Khalil Pasha first one million pounds, then two million pounds, for the release of the besieged garrison, which was refused.

Nearly 12,000 British and Indian troops who had survived the siege were taken into captivity. More than 4,000 would die while in the hands of the Ottomans.